Lyndon B. Johnson

Let’s talk about fake news stories.

There’s the garden-variety fake news that is not really “news” so much as it is titillating, tabloid-worthy material peddled by anyone with a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and an active imagination. These stories run the gamut from the ridiculous and the obviously click-baity to the satirical and politically manipulative.

Then there’s the more-devious kind of news stories circulated by one of the biggest propagators of fake news: the U.S. government.

You might want to try an enlightening experiment as we get closer to election day. Put your normal preconceived notions about politics aside for a few days and open your mind to the possibility that nearly everything you’re being told via broadcast and radio news is entirely scripted, and specifically designed via behavior-modification techniques to “nudge” your choices in a predetermined direction.

Ted Rall: LAPDog

The July 9 Rock Island Argus/Moline Dispatch article announcing a verdict for Benton Mackenzie on drug charges began like this: "Even as the 12 jurors shuffled into the courtroom to announce their verdict, Benton Mackenzie could already sense his fate. Guilty."

As storytelling journalism quickly establishing a mood and then getting to the point, it's pretty good.

Yet with the basic facts of the case never in dispute, the verdict had long been almost a foregone conclusion because of a pre-trial ruling in May - which the Illinois-based newspapers mentioned in trial coverage but didn't actually cover. Judge Henry Latham ruled that Mackenzie couldn't claim he grew marijuana out of medical necessity to treat his cancer.

The Quad-City Times, on the other hand, did cover that ruling, and did a decent job explaining the precedent behind it.

But the Benton Mackenzie coverage from both entities, while voluminous, overlooked or ignored frameworks in which daily events could be understood, processed, and put into a more-meaningful context. The story is ultimately not just about one man with terminal cancer facing a criminal trial. Nor does it merely illuminate the general issue of medical marijuana.

Rather, it's a heart-wrenching, complicated example of something larger: how the justice system deals with an area of rapidly changing law - one that is itself chasing a swift change in public attitudes following decades of calcified prohibition policy.

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